April 10, 2012 at 09:11 PM EDT

Lots of movies bomb at the box office — even movies featuring big stars from hit TV medical dramas of the moment. But when 2006 indie thriller Zyzzyx Road came out, its lack of success lit up the Internet. Because Zyzzyx Road wasn’t just a failure: it was an epic, historic, astonishing failure that brought in a whopping gross of…30 bucks. That’s right, 30 U.S. dollars. Total.

Now digital distributor GoDigital has acquired rights to the notorious film, which means soon you’ll be able to stream the film in the privacy of your own home (exact details aren’t available yet, but GoDigital works with iTunes, Netflix, Hulu, and other services).

Wondering how, exactly, this movie managed to earn so little? Five years ago I spent a couple of weeks getting some answers. Here’s the first part of the story (or click here to read the whole thing). 

A few days after Christmas, John Penney checked his e-mail. He had been on vacation in Napa with his wife and daughter, and on the way home they stopped off at his sister’s house in Carmel, Calif. He logged on, scanned through his in-box, then clicked on an innocent-looking message from an acquaintance, who’d sent him an article. ”What if they released a movie and nobody came?” read the headline. The story, from the scrappy film site CHUD.com, described a truly spectacular failure — a 2006 thriller called Zyzzyx Road that, despite starring Tom Sizemore and Grey’s Anatomy‘s Katherine Heigl, had grossed a grand total of $30 at the box office. ”I was mortified,” says Penney, who, as it happens, had written, directed, and produced the movie in question. ”I went, ‘Oh, my God, this is horrendous.’ I’m reading it and saying, ‘Oh, no. Oh, no! This isn’t how it’s supposed to go.’ I’ve been through a lot of crap in my career. I’ve seen so many things. But this movie is like my baby, and it’s being dragged around in the street with people poking sticks in it. It was brutal. It was ugly. I was reeling.”

In a daze, Penney drove his family home to L.A. ”It was kind of quiet in the car,” he says. ”But pretty soon the humor of the whole thing starts kicking in. By the end of the trip we’re just laughing. I’m thinking, You know what? It’s an Internet thing?it’ll die down.” But there was another e-mail waiting at home. Variety had picked up the story — and was calling Zyzzyx the lowest-grossing movie on record. ”I go, ‘Oh, noooo.’ But I said, ‘Now surely it’s done with. This is all gonna go away.”’ Trying to resume his normal routine, Penney went to see Children of Men. ”I come out of the screening room, and my cell says I have a message. [Zyzzyx editor] Joe Gutowski is saying, ‘John, let me just say, there’s no such thing as bad publicity.’ I go, ‘What now?!”’ The New York Times had weighed in. ”I went, ‘God, please let this be over.’ Because no one was telling the real story.” CLICK HERE TO CONTINUE READING

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